Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Crystal River, Florida, to swim with manatees. Hundreds of the roly-poly marine mammals spend the winter there munching on sea grass. The Crystal River area is the only place in the U.S. where it’s legal to swim alongside these gentle giants.
But some wildlife protection groups want swimmers to stay out of manatee territory. They argue that these once-endangered creatures migrate to Florida to survive, not to entertain us. They worry that swimmers could disturb the animals, forcing them to leave the safety of their habitat.
But others point out that Florida has strict rules, like no touching or feeding the animals. Swimmers who break those rules can be fined or even arrested.
“Manatees are amazing, and any chance to observe them is special,” says Martine de Wit of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. “But do so from a distance!”
So, is it OK to swim with manatees? Here’s what two of our readers think.